Born Free – Or Why I Dropped Out of College

I am a college dropout. But not in the Alicia Keys, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, or Kat Cole way. For starters, they all went to very respectable universities and colleges. I went to a vocational college. Secondly, they all had a goal and dreams. I did not. The only thing I knew is that I really, really did not like the concept of school.

I’ve never been a good student. I went to a vocational high-school where teachers described me as “ambitious, if only he tried”, which I think was the description for everyone, but they also described me as lazy. And so I barely graduated from a vocational high-school, having fucked up my exams in Dutch and Math.

I originally wanted to go to a design academy to learn about game development. An avid gamer and having made a few game mods and maps, it was one of the few things I could see myself doing full-time. But, design academies cost money and, well… we did not have any money. So I ended up at a vocational IT-oriented college, ready to learn about computers.

Except I already learned about computers. To this day I will forever remember my first “PC Hardware” class. Let’s call it PC Hardware 101. Happening in a computer lab, I was told to sit behind a computer and turn it on and press the F12 key while booting. As the teacher waited for everyone to comply he continued his lesson. “Alright, now you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move the selection up and down”. Yikes. I had been building computers for friends and family since I was 13. The last thing I was interested in was being told how to navigate through a bios.

Luckily a blessing appeared on the horizon. Because it was the end of 2004 and a few months from now World of Warcraft would be released. As I dinged level 60 and fought brave battles in the world of Azeroth, my absence record dinged 80. 80%. I had missed out on 80% of all classes. You might wonder how I was able to spend 80% of what should’ve been spend at college in Azeroth, it’s because my parents would leave at 06:30 for work, and not be home until 16:00. This meant that as my mother, brother, and step-dad would fuck off to work, I would flake out on the couch in front of the TV watching the morning news until it was time to go college.

Or, what I would do instead is either take my classic 1970s moped and drive around the beautiful province of South-Holland and chill at the beach, or boot up my PC and get lost in World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, or Medal of Honor.

When my mom came home one day and asked me how college was going, I knew something was up. Because my mom could not give two shits about how college was going. “Fine”, I said. Hoping I could bluff myself out of whatever was going to be said next. “Your teacher called.” “-oh?”. “He said you missed 80% of your classes and you’re going to fail this year”. What followed next was a bunch of shouting, and honestly I can’t remember much. I was 17 at the time, and my mom told me that going to school was mandatory until I was 18, and me not finishing college meant I would be doomed to a life of despair and poverty. She meant well, probably. And so back to college I went.

Because I showed up for only 20% of the time, I had to redo the first year of my IT college. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but during my 2nd 1st (hehe) year I met some really, really good people who I genuinely enjoyed hanging around with, and it’s these people who got me through my first and second year of college. Shoutout to my friends from that time, especially Jeffrey (:kiss:) who to this day I’m still pretty good friends with.

It’s now 2006. I’m in the 2nd (3rd) year of college and things are going well. I still hate school, but my friends are dope. To graduate with an associates degree you have to perform a compulsory internship. I never bothered to send out a cover letter to anyone, and so college presented me with an option: “here’s three companies, fingers crossed one of them picks you or else you’ll have to redo the 2nd year”. I don’t know why, but the Dutch Department of Justice, out of all possibilities, was graceful enough to allow me to perform an internship at their Rotterdam Court building. One of the biggest judicial buildings in the Netherland, I was responsible, kinda, for supporting around 2000 users, 300 printers, and bunch of court rooms.

I worked with a diverse team, and I enjoyed working with everyone there. But more than anything, I actually enjoyed my job. I’ll save the contents of my job for another day, but it was basically helping end-users (the magistrates, the clerks, the assistants, the lunch ladies, and the court police) with whatever issue they had with their hard- or software. I haven’t had a single bad experience. Even when they thought they could piss me off by asking to take inventory of all printers within the court complex I could not be detered. My work ethic, if you could call it that, did not go unnoticed and I was asked if I could help out full-time over the summer holiday. 2,5 months of rummaging around with computers and fixing people their problem? Let’s do this!

Then in September 2007 the fun ended. I had to go back to school. Having made some money I was, rightfully so, asked to pay for my own education by my mom. Luckily, being part of the judicial system motivated me to do something with my life, and my knack for computers and sense of justice made me change from the generic IT track to a new track called “digital forensics”. This meant ditching my friends, but it also meant I could actually go to school and learn something new. Filled with motivation I attended my first few classes. And although I was learning new things, what I also learned was that this new track was not just “new”. We were effectively beta-testing the program. Teachers who previously taught regular IT classes now taught digital forensics classes.

A few weeks later the inevitable happened: my motivation to do a good job was shattered. It was during a class on “collecting evidence”. Following the instructions of the teacher, I carefuly documented each step I took trying to find “evidence” for a crime on a USB drive that was given to me. As my fellow students completed the task in 15~ minutes, I was barely done before after the 2 hour period was over. The teacher asked me why it took me so long, I presented him with my notes and the premise of the task: “Document every step you take, and every finding you make”. My fellow students barely wrote down where they found the “evidence”. “Don’t take it so serious next time.” was the advice my teacher gave me. Now you might tell me, “yeah, Brian. Don’t take it so serious”. And you know? Maybe you’re right. But I could no longer be bothered to try.

And then came the straw that broke the camels back. Because during that two hour period, what did my classmates do after 15 minutes? Well, they did nothing. Nothing? What? Yes. Nothing. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I said we were beta testing this new course and our teachers were non-specialized teachers? They didn’t know what to do either. And so we would spend hours just idling in class. Either playing Tibia, one of the few network games that worked, doing some course work, or not. Eventually on some days we would spend 3 hours in a classroom with a custodian under the guise of “homework time”. Just as we had no homework, the school did not have teachers.

And so on one undoubtedly cold Autumn day, October 29th of 2006, (I checked my email to confirm the date!) I stood up and packed my bag. The custodian asked me where I was going.

“- You can’t go home, you have class.”
“OK, then I’ll unenroll from college.”
“- You can’t because by law you have to be enrolled”
“I don’t think that’s true”

And so I walked out of class, to the administration office and asked to unroll. Administration told me the same. “You can’t unenroll”. Yes I can. I’m paying for my own education. “Oh?”. A few confusing minutes later administration was able to present me with a form that would cancel my obligations and unenroll me from the Albeda College. A penstroke, and the deed was done.

I was free! Impulsive. But also free!

I’ll never forget the feeling of walking away from college that day. The soundtrack would’ve been Andy Williams’ “Born Free”. Slightly dramatic, but that’s how I free I felt. Of course I now had to tell my mom that I had dropped out of college. Because I was free as the roaring tide, and there was no need to hide. Well, there was a need to hide. My mom was not entertained by the idea that she now had a college drop-out son who had literally 0 credentials, 0 diplomas, and and on top of that was incredibly lazy.

As moms do, I was threatened by being kicked out of the house unless I found a job within a month. I’m not going to lie, finding a job wasn’t on my mind at all. All I knew was that I was not going back to school. Armed with nothing but the prospect of becoming homeless I set out to find a job. And a job I found! As a support engineer at the Department of Waterworks. To this day I don’t know why they took the gamble, but I fared quite well and was offered a full-time contract after about a year and a half. My team-lead at the time said the government would kill any ambitions I had, and said I shouldn’t take the offer. Finally some good advice.

I declined the offer, and remained, as Andy Williams put it, free to follow my heart. I ended up becoming a programmer, consultant, web developer, to eventually end up where I am right now: a CTO for an eCommerce company in South-East Asia, moonlighting with his own development shack on the side.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t know if there’s any lessons to be learned here. I would not advice anyone to drop out of college. But I wouldn’t advice you to stay in college either. Should you follow your heart? I don’t know man. Just do what makes you happy. And don’t be a dick.

Categorized as Career